Ben Jones: Penn State Football Team Builds a Legacy of Bravery
Every football team leaves its own legacy. The stories that unfold throughout a season inevitably lend themselves to some sort of pattern or trait that the team is remembered for.
The 2005 team will forever be remembered as the one that put Penn State back on the map; the 1994 team will be remembered for supreme skill and confidence on the field that were never rightfully honored. The list goes on and on through the eras of Penn State’s illustrious history.
The legacy of the 2011 football team was supposed to be a team that played above its means. An inconsistent offense that pulled victories out when it absolutely had to, backed up by one of the best defenses in recent years. The game-winning drive and missed field goal by Illinois were probably going to be its moment, but then everything changed.
The events of the past month in State College need not be explained for their impact to be understood. A program flipped on its head, leaving nothing but its players standing alone, just wanting to finish their season.
Instead, they were enveloped in a media frenzy that took State College by storm for that fateful week this November.
Tuesday night, I had the unique and unexpected opportunity to play video games with running back Silas Redd, fullback Michael Zordich and linebacker Michael Mauti. While we played for only about an hour, it provided me with the humbling realization of what the 2011 football team’s legacy really is.
No one on the team asked for this entire scandal to happen to them. None of them had ever really known Jerry Sandusky all that well, let alone what he had done. Yet in the days following the release of the grand-jury report, senior safety Drew Astorino was one of the first people to address the media on the matter. Certainly he is one of the nicest, most well-spoken players on the team, but far from the person who should have been in that position.
Playing video games with Redd, Zordich and Mauti reminded me of that. Hiding behind an exploding tanker truck with Mauti shouting in to the headset you realize that these guys just want to be normal again. In the very least, they want to be football players again. Mauti, who was never supposed to be injured, was coaching from the sidelines and growing up at the same time. Zordich was continuing a family tradition of Penn State football, and Redd was just looking for that extra yard. Those stories would have been enough, but in the wake of the scandal they became almost an afterthought. They were forced to stand up and face something they had not created, and they did it with ease.
Moving forward, Penn State has the opportunity to finish what it started. A victory over Houston would give the Nittany Lions their 10th win of the year, far from what many people expected from this team.
From now on, the legacy of the 2011 football team will forever be tied to Jerry Sandusky and the end of the Joe Paterno era. While the fabric of the team has been tested and put through the most rigorous experiences, this team will be remembered not for faltering when the microscope was unrightfully on them, but for standing up to the challenge and taking it head-on.